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10.00  From McDonald's to Prayer Hall: "Hybrid" Religious Architectural Identities in the Diaspora

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9:00, Dimanche 5 Juin 2016 (30 minutes)

A McDonald’s restaurant in Wisconsin, a Sam’s Club warehouse in Ohio, a neo-Gothic cathedral in Quebec, and a factory building in Toronto. These typologies represent the average built environment of suburbia, yet what they all have in common is their repurposing into use as Sikh gurdwaras (places of worship/gathering). While adaptive reuse and repurposing/rezoning of buildings is by no means a phenomenon unique to the Sikh community, it does point to further complexities in debates on (national) heritage. These cases encapsulate what happens when diasporic communities use the built environment to not only (re)formulate their own socio-cultural, hybridized identities, but also how they impact the larger contexts in which they are situated. Rephrased another way, in our increasingly global and “borderless” living environments, heritage-based histories of place-making and identity-formation can no longer be looked at as one-way exchanges between the “hostland” and the “diaspora.” How the larger national context accords (or resists) change must be made part of the narrative. 

The provocative questions for this session raise interesting concerns about the future of history, as studied through heritage. First and foremost, whose heritage is at stake in discussions on (dis)placement or hybridization of cultural and material landscapes? Secondly, what kinds of hybrid identities arise from cultural and social encounters between diasporic communities and their larger hostland contexts? Lastly, how, if at all, do these hybrid identities become part of the “natural” fabric of some imagined national identity? Take for example, the inclusion of the Stockton Gurdwara (1912) in California in the National Register of Historic Places. Another similar case is of the Gurdwara Sahib Quebec (1900) building receiving funding from the Religious Heritage Council for preservation and conservation of the neo-Gothic structure. 

While the Stockton Gurdwara was purpose-built and the Quebec one was repurposed from a church into a Gurdwara, both examples disrupt seamless narratives of national belonging, as well as narratives of assimilatory politics. Neither building exhibits “traditional” or “ethnic” architectural features that are otherwise present in countless other, newer diasporic gurdwaras. Moreover, neither the Stockton, nor the Quebec example can be classified as “fully” Sikh, or “fully” Canadian or American. The structures’ hybrid identities (Sikh-American, Sikh-Canadian) reflect adaptation of and responses to their respective local environments and architecture. By using these types of case studies, this paper will further contribute to breaking down hegemonic discourses of utilization of heritage as a tool for historicization. Ultimately, this paper grapples with the question of “Whose heritage?” 

Tavleen Kaur


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